NFL | Jan 04, 2023

The 20 worst NFL draft picks of all time

By Harry Bazley

Jamarcus russell

The NFL draft offers each team a chance to bring fresh talent onto their rosters, with hundreds of scouts dedicating their time to finding the best prospects coming out of college.

From the No.1 overall pick, to the very last 259th pick of the draft, each selection provides an opportunity to bolster a team where it may be lacking strength and gather young talent for the future, but sometimes they don't get it quite right...

We are currently watching this year's Mr. Irrelevant, Brock Purdy, prove everyone wrong as he takes the San Francisco 49ers into the playoffs, despite being the final pick of the 2022 draft. Now, there are plenty of success stories, but what about those times a player was expected to be the next Tom Brady and didn't quite live up to the hype?

Well today we're going to look at the worst draft picks in NFL history, as we list a few of the highest drafted players who turned out to be some of the biggest NFL draft busts of all time.

20 - QB Matt Leinart, Arizona Cardinals (2006, 10th overall)

Matt Leinart had an epic college career at USC and even won the Heisman Trophy before declaring for the 2006 draft.

The Arizona Cardinals picked him up thinking they'd found their next franchise QB, as Kurt Warner was slowly edging his way out. But by 2010, Leinart had lost his job to Derek Anderson and was released. The former-Heisman QB played just 17 games in his four years with Arizona and lost 10 of them.

19 - QB Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals (2018, 10th overall)

The Cardinals are at it again, with another wasted 10th overall draft pick.

Josh Rosen was one of the brightest prospects coming into the league in 2018. Despite making a few starts in his rookie season - where he struggled to make plays in a terrible offense - the Cardinals then used their No. 1 overall pick in 2019 to draft Kyler Murray, and it was all over for Rosen...

He was soon sent to the Dolphins for a second- and fifth-rounder and took a few more knocks in limited action in Miami. He then made trips to San Francisco and Tampa before becoming a back for the Atlanta Falcons in 2021.

Josh Rosen barely saw an opportunity to make things work in the NFL as he was often second-best to some top-tier QBs. It was all over before it even got started.

18 - QB Rich Campbell, Green Bay Packers (1981, 6th overall)

Before hitting the jackpot with Aaron Rodgers 2005, Green Bay dramatically failed at finding a franchise passer in the 1980s.

Campbell came out of the gate by throwing 4 interceptions in 30 passing attempts and as a result, never started a single game for them. With just 7 appearances, the 6th overall pick had a seriously short career in green bay.

17 - DL Steve Emtman, Indianapolis Colts (1992, 1st overall)

In all fairness, Steve Emtman was undeniably a logical choice for the Indianapolis Colts with the No.1 overall pick of the 1992 NFL draft. The defensive lineman finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting during his junior season which is almost unheard of.

But to Indy's demise, Emtman was riddled with injuries the moment he touched the turf.

He blew out his knee during his rookie season, blew it out again when he returned for his second season and sustained a neck injury in his third season. With both injuries taking place on the AstroTurf, many believe that this began the league's movement towards natural grass fields (though this still remains an issue).

16 - QB David Carr, Houston Texans (2002, 1st overall)

As if joining the league one year after Michael Vick was chosen as the No.1 overall pick, wasn't unlucky enough, the Houston Texans also flopped at getting a franchise QB to set up the new team.

Now, it wasn't entirely their fault. There just wasn't the QB talent in the 2002 draft to warrant a No.1 overall selection. But Houston needed a QB, so they went with Carr.

The problem wasn't Carr, but the fact that Houston failed to build an NFL-worthy offensive line to protect him. The rookie QB ended up taking a whopping 76 sacks in his first season.

Carr struggled in the Texans offense for a while, before eventually playing back-up to the Super Bowl winning New York Giants and Eli Manning.

15 - QB Heath Shuler, Washington Redskins (1994, 3rd overall)

Long before Heath Shuler was elected to congress in North Carolina, he was one of the biggest QB prospects in the 1994 NFL draft.

Shuler held almost every record you can think of for the Tennessee Volunteers (until Peyton Manning arrived and completely destroyed them).

After holding out for a big contract his rookie season, Shuler lost 7 of his 8 starts, throwing 12 interceptions in the process. He was soon beaten out for the starting spot by Gus Frerotte and was soon traded to the New Orleans Saints in 1997.

He finished his career with a QB rating of 54.3 - ranking him among the worst quarterbacks who started a minimum of 20 games in the last 25 years.

14 - DL Courtney Brown, Cleveland Browns (2000, 1st overall)

Courtney Brown helped lead one of the most dominant college football defenses we've ever seen at Penn State. In fact, both LaVar Arrington and Brown led Penn State in the draft as both were labelled "can't miss prospects".

Unfortunately for the Browns, their new defensive lineman was anything but dominant in his NFL career.

Over 5 seasons in Cleveland, he started 47 games and accumulated just 17 sacks. Not the kind of production you expect to see from a 1st overall draft pick.

13 - QB David Klingler, Cincinnati Bengals (1992, 1st overall)

Just a few years after the Bengals lost the Super Bowl to San Francisco, Cincinnati found themselves struggling. Boomer Esiason led them to just 3 wins in 1991 and they were left searching for a new franchise QB to set up their future.

David Klingler was the clear choice for Cincy.

The Houston QB completely shattered college football records - throwing for 11 touchdowns against Eastern Michigan in 1990 and finishing the season with a Division 1 record 51 touchdown passes.

But perhaps it was his wide receivers that did all the work...

When Klingler entered the league, he looked nothing like the franchise QB that Cincy desperately needed. He ended up starting just 24 games in three seasons and losing 20 of them, as he threw 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.

12 - RB Lawrence Phillips, St. Louis Rams (1996, 6th overall)

Lawrence Philips was expected to be the next Eric Dickerson for St. Louis, but the off-field issues that Phillips had in Nebraska should have been the Rams first clue of the difficulties to come.

Phillips failed to gain more than 650 yards in a single season with the Rams and simply couldn't handle the NFL. He was soon released after a couple seasons following an incident that landed him 23 days in jail.

If that wasn't enough, Phillips is also blamed by some, for missing a block on the infamous play that ended Steve Young's career.

And it doesn't stop there - Phillips was later arrested in 2005 for driving his car into 3 people and was ordered to serve a 31-year prison sentence for the assault and another incident with his girlfriend.

So, he wasn't the best on-field, but his off-field issues are what make him one of the biggest busted trades in history.

11 - LB Vernon Gholston, New York Jets (2008, 6th overall)

The New York Jets were very confident in their selection of Vernon Gholston after watching him set a single-season sack record for Ohio State in 2007. And they had good reason to be - his 14 sack record stood for 12 years until Chase Young broke it in 2019. So, let's not play down his collegiate performance.

Unfortunately for the Jets though, Gholston just couldn't produce the same kind of numbers in the big league.

As a rookie in 2008, Gholston signed a contract that ended up paying him a total of $18 million - which is a substantial payday given he'd never recorded an NFL sack. Now, the Jets thought they were paying for an elite-level pass-rusher, but little did they know Gholston would go three seasons without recording a single sack. It's no surprise that the Jets let him go shortly afterwards, in 2010.

10 - LB Brian Bosworth, Seattle Seahawks (1987, 1st overall)

Brian "The Boz" Bosworth was one of the most talked-about linebacker prodigies in history. After earning multiple first-team All-American and Butkus awards under Barry Switzer, he was eventually suspended for steroid use. This should have been the Hawks first sign.

Seattle gave up their 1988 first-round pick to take Bosworth in '87, but the trade did not pay off.

Bosworth started 24 games in his career and acquired just four sacks.

9 - QB Johnny Manziel, Cleveland Browns (2014, 22nd overall)

Johnny Manziel - otherwise known as "Johnny Football" - is one of the most legendary QB busts in NFL history.

Manziel was a dominant collegiate QB, earning the Heisman Trophy for his talents but he just couldn't live up to all the hype after he left Texas A&M.

His NFL career lasted just 2 years before moving his football dreams to Canada, the AAF and Fan Controlled Football League. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner recently told ESPN that he would be participating in FCF for its second season, but that his formal football career "in my eyes is over."

8 - QB Akili Smith, Cincinnati Bengals (1999, 3rd overall)

Despite all the doubt surrounding Akili Smith and his ability to transfer from a unique college offense to the toughness of the NFL, the Bengals selected him with the 3rd overall pick. Now, there's no doubt that Smith had a solid collegiate career, but it didn't set him up well reading defensive coverages and it showed.

Smith started 17 games for the Bengals in four seasons, winning just three of them as he threw just five touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

7 - QB Andre Ware, Detroit Lions (1990, 7th overall)

Andre Ware was so dominant in college, that he broke 26 different collegiate passing records in just his junior season at Houston in 1989. But, just like Akili Smith, questions arose about his ability to transfer from the run-and-shoot college offense, to the NFL.

The Detroit Lions took a chance on the young prospect anyway, and it failed to pay off. Ware started just six games in his entire career, throwing 5 touchdowns and 8 interceptions and logging just a 51% completion rate.

6 - QB Rick Mirer, Seattle Seahawks (1990, 2nd overall)

Rick Mirer seemed to possess all the skills to be a great NFL quarterback after a stellar college career and he may have been the first overall pick if it wasn't for Drew Bledsoe. But with Bledsoe ahead of Mirer in the draft queue, the Seahawks were left to spend the second pick on Mirer, and their NFL careers could not have been more different.

Mirer struggled to carry his talent from Notre Dame into the NFL - throwing 56 interceptions in four seasons and falling to the back-up spot at various teams for the final four years of his career, in which he started just 17 games.

5 - QB Tim Couch, Cleveland Browns (1999, 1st overall)

This former Kentucky Wildcat threw for over 8,000 yards and 75 touchdowns in his final two collegiate seasons. As a result many scouts concluded him to be the consensus No. 1 overall pick, and Couch decided to forgo his senior season, declaring for the draft a season early.

The brand new Cleveland Browns took Couch as their first pick for their opening season and he was deemed to be their "saviour".

Couch survived just five seasons in the NFL after leading the Browns to only 22 wins in that period and his time in the big league was over.

4 - WR Charles Rogers, Detroit Lions (2003, 2nd overall)

After a collegiate career in which he broke Michigan State records for single-game receiving yards and career touchdowns as well as the NCAA record for most consecutive games with a touchdown, Rogers became the second overall pick for the Detroit Lions in 2003.

He proceeded to play in just 15 games over the first three seasons of his career, which would end up being his only appearances on NFL turf. He was released before the 2006 season began and as a result, earns the no.4 worst draft pick in history.

3 - RB Ki-Jana Carter, Cincinnati Bengals (1995, 1st overall)

Ki-Jana Carter was one of the best college running backs to hit the draft pool, with a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons and a 23-touchdown year in '94. There was no doubt Carter deserved the top spot in the '95 draft.

With such certainty surrounding his NFL projections, the Bengals traded up to take the No.1 pick and added Carter to their roster.

Much to Cincy's demise, Carter's rookie season was completely erased by a preseason knee injury and he was never quite the same after that. More injuries riddled Carter's career as time went on and as a result, he only started 14 games in 5 years for the Bengals.

2 - QB Ryan Leaf, San Diego Chargers (1998, 2nd overall)

This is a true story of what could have been...

If the Indianapolis Colts had beaten the Minnesota Vikings in the final game of the 1997 NFL season, the entire history of the Colts and Chargers would have been rewritten.

As Peyton Manning lined up to be the clear 1st overall pick in '98, San Diego were desperately trying to trade up to the top spot to acquire the coveted Tennessee QB, but Indy wouldn't budge.

So, the Chargers had to take Ryan Leaf at the 2nd overall spot, who still had the expectation to be a franchise QB for years to come.

To the shock of every scout in the league, Leaf flunked his rookie season and failed to get his confidence back after that point. He threw just 2 touchdowns compared to 15 interceptions in his first year with the Bolts and it didn't get much better next season, as Leaf managed just 1 victory in 9 starts. San Diego gave him just four more appearances on the turf before he was cut from the roster.

So, the Chargers were left watching from the sidelines as Peyton Manning became one of the best franchise Quarterbacks in NFL history, while Ryan Leaf failed to see the field past his second season.

1 - QB Jamarcus Russel, Oakland Raiders (2007, 1st overall)

Jamarcus Russel takes the top spot on this list, not because he lacked talent or skill, but because his terrible attitude led him to start just one game during his rookie year with the Raiders despite being one of the most highly-touted QBs in history.

Scouts were going crazy over Russell - Mel Kiper even compared the LSU QB to John Elway and at 6'5", 260 pounds, can you blame him?

But once Russell joined the roster, it was clear his character was going to be the issue more than anything else. He held out on training camp in his first year and this absence even ran into the regular season. He came into the 2009 training camp weighing 290 pounds, and it became clear that the young QB wasn't concerned with football anymore and wanted a paycheck.

He was released after just three seasons with the Oakland Raiders - where he had just 25 starts and a record of 7-18. The franchise has since publicly regretted the decision to draft him.

If there's one quote that sums up Russell's career, it's from Cliff Branch and ex-Raiders wide-receiver:

His work ethic had to be the worst man...He had all the talent in the world, but he didn't prepare himself at all. Russell was a party boy, they gave him all this money.

Cliff Branch